Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Few edcampPS Thoughts

Holly, Wokka, and Sam as edcampPS got rolling
So back in May when the first edcamp Palm Springs was announced, clearly I was intrigued. I love edcamps - I think the structure and organic nature of edcamps, but also the kind of teachers they attract, make the edcamp experience unique among educational professional development opportunities. Plus, they’re free. So I wanted to go. But I live in the Bay Area. Palm Springs is a long way away.

Enter John Stevens, one of the edcampPS organizers. He solved part of the issue: “Just fly down here and stay with me and my family.” Well then. Lacking an excuse not to go, I bought a plane ticket. Great decision. (Also, enormous props to John for putting me up for the weekend!)

I don’t want to talk about everything that happened at edcampPS, but there were some definite highlights. First, most of the #caedchat team was there. Given that the majority of the team - everyone but Sam Patterson and I - are SoCal folks, it was great to spend the day with this awesome group of educators who I had spent so much time planning chats with. Jo-Ann Fox brought irrepressible energy, Holly Clark asked tough questions all day, Ryan Archer provided some fascinating tidbits about his transformation as a teacher, Sam Patterson had the irreverent humor on point all day, and John Stevens and Jessica Pack, well, they helped organized the day. Some highlights:

The #caedchat crew  teamed up and facilitated a session on Twitter in the morning. As an absolute Twitter evangelist, I LOVE talking with other educators about Twitter. I also get eye rolls when I bring up Twitter on my staff, so having a room full of teachers that wanted to talk about and learn to better use Twitter is absolutely a blast to me.

Kate Petty’s 20% Time session offered a couple important reminders for educators. First, we sometimes need to remember to emphasize the process over the product in our classrooms. This is obviously true for something like 20% Time, where final products of this project are not graded. This emphasis on process can help move our students away from their obsession with points and grades. Second, and building on moving students away from their obsession with grades and points, Kate discussed that it was important to give students the chance to fail in their 20% projects. Being open and honest about this with students - you’re welcome to fail on this project - is so needed in an educational system that doesn’t allow students anywhere near enough opportunities to fail and learn from those failures.

One of the absolute highlights of the day for me was a post-lunch session facilitated by Moss Pike and Chris Long. Their session was titled ‘Check Your Ego at the Door’ and dealt with control and choice in the classroom. First, the session started with us rearranging the room and getting the chairs into circle so we could have a discussion. YES. This is what edcamp is supposed to look like. But the conversation was a deep one. Free flowing and touching on student choice, rules in the classroom, and making change at our sites and in education (to name a few of the light topics we discussed), it was everything an edcamp session is supposed to be. The body language of the participants reflected this as well - people were actively engaged in conversation and showed this whether they were speaking or not. Plus, props to Ryan Archer for one of the lines of the day with his realization that as teachers at edcamp, “We’re finally part of the one percent!!!”

'Things That Suck'

I got to facilitate ‘Things That Suck’ in the final session of the day with Matt Vaudrey. First, if you haven’t met Matt and gotten a chance to talk to him, do it at the next conference you are at: the dude is absolutely hilarious. Even on the 6:30am drive to edcampPS. Anyhow… Always a rolicking session with lots of voices and opinions, this version of Things That Suck was highly enjoyable. It even included a kindergarten teacher - who shall remain nameless - who had to put herself on timeout because she wanted to discuss everything!

Ah, what the heck - I’m outing you for that, Elizabeth Goold - your passion made Things That Suck even more fun!
iPad, photo by DianeDarrow

And while edcampPS was fun - I won an iPad mini in the swag drawing at the end of the day!!! - it was really the relationships and conversations - some new, others old - that are what edcamp is all about. Hearing a teacher’s visceral frustration with their prescribed curriculum, and how they are trying to deal with a complete lack of autonomy in their classroom. Excited teachers thinking about turning their students loose on 20% Time. Another teacher who can’t wait to get out of the classroom and into their TOSA position. The relationships, the people, the conversations - that’s what made edcampPS special.

Hats off to John, Jessica, Eduardo Rivera, and the rest of the team edcampPS team - the inaugural version rocked! Thanks for all your hard work - y’all delivered a great learning experience!

And the experience was capped by a late Saturday evening beer with Alice Chen, who couldn’t make it edcampPS! Well, Alice had desert not a beer, but regardless is was a nice way to end the weekend.

As I sit and type this in the Las Vegas airport, I’m left with a couple thoughts. We NEED to get more administrators to edcamps. They have a unique perspective on education that is so valuable in a room full of teachers,. Also, though, hopefully getting to see such a dedicated group of teachers would allow these education leaders to free up teachers to take risks in their classroom: to go out and try something, then support them if they fail. I’d love to say I knew how to do that.

Second? Get yourself to an edcamp. Even if it means some travel. Do it. You won’t regret it.